Save up to a day per week, spend less money on food and lower your stress levels, even if you have no idea how to cook!
You don’t really become an adult until you have to cook for yourself.
Have you ever just finished eating lunch, only to realise you have to start thinking about what to cook for dinner?
Do you find yourself going back to the fridge throughout the day wondering what you could eat, only to end up snacking on a whole bag of chips, or raiding the chocolate stash?
Thankfully, there is a better way that can simplify your eating and help you achieve your body goals - whether you’re looking to lose weight, build muscle or both.
What is meal prepping?
Meal prepping, or meal prep for short, is simply the act of preparing your meals ahead of time.
You can then store these meals in a fridge (or a freezer) until needed, reheat them and enjoy your meal.
But I know that entering into the world of meal prep can be daunting.
If you want to do it effectively, you have to take into account how many calories you need, how many macro and micro nutrients you will get, what meals fit those requirements, the right kind of containers...
I’m getting a mild fit of anxiety just writing about that.
But don't stress! Now that I've been through it all, I know how to help you get through it too!
Why do it?
The benefits of meal prep are plenty; here are just a few:
Easier to stick to your diet. With most people’s crazy schedules, bad food choices happen because there’s no time to cook. According to an American Journal of Health Behaviour study, the biggest barrier to eating healthy is a hectic lifestyle. In a pinch, it’s a lot easier to reheat mac’n’cheese or grab a burger at McDonald's than make a whole meal from scratch. When you’re hungry, you won’t make the right decision.
Save a bunch of time. Depending on the time you spend cooking and preparing meals now, you can save up to a whole day each week! If this sounds way too much, let's do the math: if you take 2-3 hours a day (which is likely the case if you eat 3-4 good meals), you spend 21 hours just on preparing food each week!
Meal prepping can get your food spending in check. If your budget is tight and you’d like to save some money on food, meal prep is not only a great way to get an exact idea of how much you spend, but is is also much cheaper than eating out (not to mention much healthier).
Besides the meal containers, you only have to do the dishes once per week, which we can all agree is a benefit unto itself.
You can meal prep for one person or for the whole family. Prepping for more people doesn’t take up much more time and it can be a fun Sunday activity, where you teach your children how to cook - a skill they will thank you for later in life.
No guesswork. Your life, as it relates to food will be completely simplified and don’t be surprised if you notice a significant drop in your daily stress. It’s just so easy: reheat and your meal is ready to eat.
It’s not a death sentence to chicken breast and broccoli until the rest of your days. Variety can very much be a part of meal prep, since you can create a myriad of flavours with the creative use of spices. You can also use recipes that have one core ingredient and many exchangeable ones to create 4 dishes in 1.
Prep for meal prep (how to get started)
Before we embark on your meal prep journey, I have to warn you: this article has a lot of information and you don’t need to do everything perfectly the first time.
You probably won’t, so relax your expectations a bit and allow yourself to make mistakes.
And now…the PLAN.
We can divide meal prep into three stages:
- The preparation stage
- The cooking stage
- The packaging stage
The preparation stage
Before we take a look at cooking, we have to get a few things in order.
Here’s what you will need:
- A kitchen scale and/or measuring cups
- Meal containers (more on that later)
- Pots and pans
The most important factor to consider here is food.
If you don’t know how much you should eat and how much of what, you won’t be able to design a healthy meal plan.
That’s why we first need to take a look at how many calories you need.
Whether you are trying to lose, maintain or gain weight, counting calories makes a lot of sense in conjunction with meal prep. If you’re already doing everything at the same time, getting your portion sizes in order won’t take much additional work.
First, you have to calculate how many calories you burn in a typical day.
Use this calculator to get an accurate estimate and write it down. This will be your daily baseline.
If you just want to maintain your weight, that’s all you need to do.
But if you want to gain or lose some, you will have to adjust your calories.
0.45kg of fat is around 3,500 calories, and safe fat loss is 0.45kg to 1kg per week. To lose 0.45kg per week, you’d need to create a daily deficit of 500 calories. That is best done with a combination of exercise and eating less.
A good place to start is with a 250-500 calorie deficit per day (approximately the size of a small to medium meal).
By the same token, if you want to gain weight, you need to eat about 250-500 calories more per day.
In both cases, you’ll want to up your protein intake: in the case of weight loss you want to lose fat and maintain as much muscle as possible, while minimising fat gain is the goal when bulking.
Research has shown that protein at around 25-30% of calories boosts metabolism by up to 80 to 100 calories per day compared to lower protein diets.
In another study, protein intake of 30% of total calories resulted in women eating 441 fewer calories per day. They also lost 11 pounds in 12 weeks, just by adding more protein to their diet.
If your goal is losing fat, 30 percent of your total calories should come from protein.
If your goal is to gain muscle, 1.8 grams per kilogram is the cutoff point for protein intake. Above that level, there are no additional benefits, which has been confirmed by over 20 studies.
Depending on your activity levels, you can increase (in the case of more activity) or decrease the percentage of carbohydrates and leave at least 20 percent for fat.
Macros and micros
Carbohydrates, protein, fat. These are the three macro nutrients that everyone needs.
If you follow a specific diet, like the Ketogenic diet, you can adjust the percentages of each to your liking, but if you’re just looking for a place to start, here’s a good ratio:
40 percent carbohydrates
30 percent protein
30 percent fats
This ratio will make sure you get enough protein to build lean muscle, enough fat to support crucial body processes and enough carbs to fuel you for your day.
The next piece of the puzzle are your micro nutrients: your vitamins and minerals.
This could be an article on its own, but I’ll make it very simple for you.
To get all the vitamins and minerals you need, eat a diverse diet. That means:
Eat the whole rainbow of vegetables each week and do the same with fruits.
Switch from refined grains to whole grains.
If you do eat meat, don’t just keep on chewing chicken - get some beef and fish too.
Even if you’re not vegetarian, try to sometimes get your protein from plant sources like beans and legumes.
Unless you are intolerant, include dairy products.
There’s only one additional concern: your body can’t make vitamin D on its own, so make sure to spend plenty of time in the sun or take a vitamin D supplement.
By the way, don’t worry if you can’t see how it all fits together just yet. I promise everything will make sense by the end of the article.
The cooking stage
You already know how much should you eat, but not yet exactly what. This section will help you with that.
Recipes for the whole week
When first learning about meal prep, many people think that they are doomed to one of two options.
Option A: Spend all week eating the same breakfast, lunch and dinner (yum, chicken and broccoli again!) and quit after the first week out of sheer boredom.
Option B: Spend all day cooking so that you can actually enjoy some variety, but lose your weekend to shopping, cooking and cleaning the dishes.
However, there is a third option.
That is having the general structure for the meal, but swapping out certain ingredients. This way, you will get the variety your body (and you mind) needs while not spending any more time in the kitchen - and it can all be done in the same pot or pan.
To find a selection of recipes that I have personally used in my own meal preps, visit our recipes section here, and check back regularly as we are frequently adding more!
Next, you need to decide how many meals per day you will eat and how you will split the calories between them.
I recommend eating between 3 and 5 meals per day. You won’t be able to eat enough in less than three and cooking for anything more than five per day is an absolute drudge, but do what works best with your own schedule.
Let’s look at an example: a person who wants to eat 2000 calories per day and has the time to have 4 meals.
You could have four 500 kcal meals or any other combination you want. Maybe you find you have much more energy after a large breakfast, or you may want to skip breakfast altogether.
A sample day for someone may look like:
Meal 1 (breakfast, 7:15) - 700 calories, a big breakfast to fuel the morning workout
Meal 2 (lunch, 13:00) - 500 calories, a small lunch that doesn’t cause “food coma”
Meal 3 (snack, 16:10) - 200 calories, just a few nuts and berries to chew on
Meal 4 (dinner, 20:00) - 600 calories, a bigger meal to finish the day
Everyone’s perfect day will look different. You have to take into account your job, your general activity level, your sleep schedule,...
If you’re unsure where to start, begin with 4 meals per day: breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner.
If you plan to meal prep for the whole week, it is best to pick a day when you can take a few hours to get everything done.
For most people, Sunday is most convenient, but feel free to choose any day that fits your schedule.
Depending on your cooking experience, preparing meals for a whole week could take anywhere from 2 to 10 hours, but most experienced preppers report taking just 2-3 hours on average. That’s just 20 minutes per day!
I bet you’re currently spending at least that much for every daily meal, which means you could save at least 7 hours a week - and that’s if you cook faster than Flash. More likely, you spend 2-3 hours a day cooking, which means you are looking at 21 hours saved (that’s almost a whole extra day!).
With time and practice, you will become faster and better, but if you want to speed the process up, here are a few things you can do:
Invest in a good knife and learn how to use it. Until you try this, you won’t know how much of a difference it makes. It can take you from chopping a carrot for a whole minute to having it sliced in just ten seconds - and you will look like a proper chef.
Invest in a slow cooker. Many meal preppers find using one to be a great way to prepare a delicious meal that will last the whole week with little effort. Here's a guide on how to use them to make meals for the whole month if you're keen!
Use delivery. Most groceries shops have online stores and many even offer free delivery straight to your doorstep. Buying bulk rice, potatoes, pasta and anything else that doesn’t have to be fresh in bulk is much more convenient and it can cut down your shopping time in half.
The packaging stage
This is the last stage (yay!), but it is just as important as the others. If you don’t store your meals properly, you could risk wasting them.
Meal prep containers
Once you know your daily requirements, you’ll need containers to store the tasty foods you've just cooked.
There are two concerns when it comes to choosing the right container for you. You want it to be:
- The ri0.40ght size
- Air-tight and leak-proof
- Made of food-grade materials
- Microwave safe
As far as size is concerned, bigger is better!
If you buy containers that are too small you might regret it later, especially if you decide later you'd like to start building more muscle. Bigger containers can easily fit smaller meals, but the reverse isn’t true.
The material is where the debate heats up.
The choices are plastic, glass and silicone coming in at third place.
I know we’ve all been told that plastic and food together aren’t good for health, but it is good every once in a while to challenge our assumptions.
Contrary to popular belief, not all plastic containers are hazardous to health. Experts at WebMD have analysed several studies and came to the conclusion that high-quality plastic containers are perfectly safe. Harvard Medical School tells that unless you burn your plastic container, it is unlikely to release any harmful chemicals.
If your containers are BPA and phthalate free, microwave and dishwasher safe (like ours are) and you reheat your meals as we suggest later, you have absolutely no reason to worry.
They are also a lot lighter than glass containers and are much more convenient to take with you to work.
Of course, glass and medical-grade silicone are also completely safe, so in the end, it’s a matter of personal choice.
Storing your meals
After your meals are cooked, place them into the containers, but don't close them just yet!
Hot dishes need to cool first, so leave them open for abaout an hour and then close them.
You can usually store food for the first 3-4 days in the fridge and freeze the rest. Make sure that both the fridge and the freezer are cold enough: you don’t want any bacteria developing and eating up your dinner.
The best way to eat your home cooked meals is hot right?!
If you use a microwave or an oven, remember: It's better to reheat twice as long at half the power than vice-versa. You will end up with a much tastier meal.
For the meals you froze, I recommend putting them in the fridge the night before and let them thaw slowly. By morning, they will no longer be frozen and will be ready to heat up. If you don’t do this and try to microwave a frozen meal, you’ll likely end up with a half-burnt, half-still-frozen meal that won’t be pleasant to your taste buds.
But let’s be honest, we all forget to do that sometimes, so make sure you use the frozen reheat setting on your microwave to get the best possible result in a hurry.
And that’s it! You’ve successfully arrived at the end of this beginners guide to Meal Prep!
My most important tip for you would be to just get started! Jump in, and don't over complicate it!
Cook foods you already love.
Think of switching up some of your calorie dense favourites with some lighter alternatives while you are on your weight loss journey, but never restrict yourself of certain foods unless you have spoken to your doctor or nutritionist beforehand.
Let me know in the comments your biggest meal prep tip and maybe we can learn from you too!
How many containers do I need?
That depends on how many meals you plan on prepping for each week.
If you want to prepare one meal per day - perhaps a lunch you can take with you to work - our 7 pack is the best choice.
If you want to prepare two, get the 14 pack, which gives you the option to do the above for two, or to make two meals for yourself.
And if you really want to get completely into meal prep, get both: with 21 containers, you are set for three meals for every day of the week.
Where can I buy them?
When I wanted to buy them for myself, I found out that in Australia, there are no local online or even brick and mortar stores that provide these products.
The only choice is to buy internationally and then shipping gets expensive, and you can't always rely on eBay products to arrive in good condition (or good quality).
That is why I’ve decided to start Reps & Macros. We are a small business and we offer practical, safe-for-health meal prep products - check out our line here!
How long is it safe to keep each food item before you run the risk of eating spoiled food and/or wasting money?
It depends on the type of food. In general, most foods can stay in the fridge up to 3 days and up to a month in the freezer. Here’s a very helpful chart from the FDA you can use to figure out the specific time for each food item.
How much does it cost to do meal prep?
Depending on the ingredients you use, each meal could end up costing from $3 to $6.
How can you possibly eat the same food every day?
You don’t. That is a common misconception about meal prep - in fact, variety is very much a part of it.
How do you find the motivation to meal prep every week?
Eventually it becomes a habit and you just do it. Plus, once you see just how much money, time and energy you save, you won’t be able to go back.